2011/06/01 § 5 Comments
Fiction from Portland’s Tammy Lynne Stoner
Because There Is A Story To Tell
Marie Curie was the first woman to receive a Nobel Prize. She left Poland to study in Paris, where women of the kind of woman she was could do such things. Later in life, she would watch her husband crumble from exposure to the radiation that they had unlocked.
Marie Curie had shared jokes with Einstein, my mother told me when I was younger. She was a brilliant, fearless scientist. And that, my mother said, is the reason I named you Curie.
Now I – who looks nothing like I think a Curie would – write. Why, you ask? Because there is a story to tell, of course.
This is a story has the smell of salty water and of a too-old onion in a moist container. It is a story with the taste of licorice seeds. It is the story of love.
I crossed that out because really, it is more the story of frogs.
Few people connect readily to frogs – perhaps it is because they leave their young before they hatch. We humans always have a hard time connecting with egg-bearing species that leave their young to hatch and fend for themselves: the fly, the fish, the frog.
Marie Curie died of long-term radiation exposure in the form of pernicious anemia, with a host of other ailments including cataracts and lung disorders. Her eldest daughter, Irene, had also worked in her mother’s lab with radium – the element Marie and her husband had separated out from uranium ore years before. Irene died of leukemia in her 50s.
Gamma rays come from radium. That was what really did them in – the gamma rays. Gamma rays have the smallest wavelength and the greatest energy of all waves in the electromagnetic spectrum. They are released as radiation in nuclear explosions.
Before their release, gamma rays are forced to move rapidly in order to survive – small, tight, passionate waves living too much life inside small boundaries. In this way, they live the way I live – growing but unable to expand, their energies consolidating under the pressure. Gamma rays create massive worlds in tiny spaces.
I am a short man. Shorter, probably, than most of the men reading this. Shorter, perhaps, than some of the women. And like the gamma rays, this, I believe, has compacted my energies and given me quite a bit more bang for the buck – if I were to charge for it which, excepting that one time in Madrid, I have not.
I saw my first three-legged frog on the same day that I saw him – or who I perceived to be a him, before I realized – to my shock – that he was a she. That, I thought at the time, is different, but in some ways much easier.
She was the one to explain to me the importance of the frogs. That their continuance guaranteed the continuation of the human race. She told me this while I looked at her watery green eyes, her body hidden under a huge coat that looked as if it had been felted from lama fur.
Many frogs are infertile now. And infertile frogs, she explained as the air turned salty and somehow onion-y, are forecasting the end of the human race.
Oh, I said, smiling, so how long do we have?
Long enough, she answered quietly – me not knowing if her pause meant I should kiss her then or not.
I stared at her boldly for a moment as the frogs continued making their frog noises in the background.
I am obsessed with infertile frogs, she said, and now maybe, with you too. She continued: the three-legged frogs here have birth defects because of pollution, although I guess we can never be sure if it is only from the pollution.
Then she took off her coat and became a girl.
It is good, I thought, to be with someone who can admit that there is no way of knowing something (or, really, anything). Plus I like her soft-looking breasts stretching against her white shirt.
Our brain reacts to thoughts in the same way it reacts to actions – as if they are really happening, even if they aren’t. The same centers of the brain light up when we see something really happen or when we watch it happen on TV. The same blood is delivered. The same emotion is directed.
Curie, she said to me then, laying her coat on the ground for us – and I remember moment this every day, playing it in my mind like a TV episode – Curie, she said, this is a good time to kiss me.
Frogs, she told me an hour later, touching my earlobes, lay eggs in clusters. Toads lay eggs in chains. That is one way to tell them apart, she said, but after a while, you get to see the difference straight away. Frogs look more… athletic.
Good swimmers with bad swimmers, I laughed, making a joke about the three-legged frogs and their birth defects.
She moved away for a moment, to let me know how serious she was about frogs.
I’m sorry I made that joke, I said, kissing her straight brown hair that smelled like the ocean.
Some toads, she continued with her watery eyes down, even have live births. . .
According to several interpretations, on the day of the Rapture, people will literally disappear. They will be hiking or driving or working or crying or yawning or baking or jogging or having babies and they will simply disappear.
Others think that disappearing might be possible, but for different reasons. They believe that since we were thought into existence, if enough people think the same patterns for long enough, then perhaps certain ones can be simply un-thought. We can un-think ourselves.
Later that night, after we laid a long time in the grass, I looked over at her sleeping and watched as she disappeared.
Stunned, I sat up and looked around – my guts pushing into my chest and my eyes rubbed with sandpaper, as the smoky tendrils of her ghost snapped suddenly like a piece of skin in the wind, and she simply disappeared.
Left behind was the taste of her kiss – like licorice seeds, the frogs that abruptly went silent, and me.
Tammy Lynne Stoner is the Fiction Editor for Gertrude Press. She is the creator/writer of “Dottie’s Magic Pockets,” which has been in a dozen international film festivals and is in 100+ libraries in the US and Canada. Her work has been published most recently in Draft and Society (Pale House). Her website: TammyLynneStoner.com.